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ANGELS-DODGERS REPORT

Figgins' absence taking toll

May 17, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna and Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writers

As lethal a bat as Howie Kendrick wields -- the second baseman was hitting .500 when he suffered a left hamstring strain on April 13 -- the Angels weathered his loss well, going 18-11 in April.

But when leadoff batter Chone Figgins suffered a right hamstring strain May 3, the Angels went into a funk, going 5-6 in their next 11 games and scoring two runs or fewer in four of the losses.

"When Howie went out, we missed him. When Figgy went out, we really missed him," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "He's the igniter at the top of the lineup. He works the count, gets that hit, and when he gets on base, they start throwing fastballs."

Figgins, who is batting .306 with a .421 on-base percentage, ran the bases aggressively Friday. The fact that Manager Mike Scioscia is considering whether or not Figgins needs to play a few minor league games before being activated is an indication Figgins could return next week. Kendrick is not as close to returning.

When Figgins is activated, Scioscia can move Erick Aybar, who has been batting second, back to the bottom of the order. The return of Kendrick will add depth and punch.

"In April, the bottom of the order was tearing it up, and I was like, 'Man, I've never been part of a lineup like this,' " Hunter said. "If we can stay healthy, we can do some damage. . . . We've been in a little funk, but I still see us winning. In September, when we're jumping up and down on the field, we won't even remember this."

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Angels owner Arte Moreno remains open to signing closer Francisco Rodriguez, a free agent after this season, to a contract extension and is more than willing to negotiate during the season.

"There are two sides to every door, and our side is wide open," Moreno said.

"We'd like to have discussions, but at the end of the day, we have to do what we believe is best for our team, and he and his agent have to make a decision on what they feel is best," he added.

Rodriguez turned down a three-year, $34-million offer last winter and is believed to be looking for $15 million a year. Paul Kinzer, Rodriguez's agent, said there have been no negotiations since the right-hander's arbitration case in late February.

"I haven't discussed it with Frankie since spring training," Kinzer said. "I thought everything was on hold until after the season."

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Despite widespread speculation that top pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw would be summoned from double-A Jacksonville to start today against the Angels, the Dodgers decided to let the 20-year-old left-hander continue to work in the minor leagues.

"We watched all his starts," General Manager Ned Colletti said. "It's a matter of we feel the kid's got to be able to command his fastball and a breaking ball as a secondary pitch. He's on the way to doing it, but he's not quite there yet."

Colletti wouldn't say whether it will be weeks -- or months -- before Kershaw makes his major league debut. "The kid will be here sooner than later," Colletti said.

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Shortstop Rafael Furcal missed his ninth game because of lower-back soreness but said he has begun to feel much better.

He was told to do nothing except some exercises for five days after he received a cortisone shot last Tuesday.

"After five days we'll see how I'm feeling and I'll start taking some ground balls," said Furcal, who is eligible to return Friday. "Maybe on the weekend. Maybe earlier. It depends how I feel. . . . It's frustrating, a little nervous, not playing and watching my team."

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Dodgers third baseman Blake DeWitt sat out his second straight game because of tightness in his back but said he thinks he could play today.

"I've got to make sure I stay loose and keep it stretched out," said DeWitt, who has never had back problems before. "It's nothing serious. It just kind of tightened up before the game [Thursday]."

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Dodgers infielder Nomar Garciaparra, on the disabled list April 26 because of a left calf strain, is progressing slowly, and there is no timetable for his return.

"It will tell me," he said of the injury. "I wish I could tell it."

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Dodgers right-hander Jason Schmidt is expected to make a rehab start today for Class-A Inland Empire against Lake Elsinore.

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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